The race for Orange County Clerk is generally a routine affair, but it is a bit different this time around, as the state’s Green Light Law has become a campaign issue.
After undocumented immigrants were legally permitted to drive under the law in late 2019, staff at the clerk’s office set up two systems for driver’s license applicants: One for undocumented applicants and one for legal residents.
To handle the sudden spike in new applicants, the staff went to a ticket system for people who are not documented to ensure not too many showed up expecting to have applications processed.
What You Need To Know
- Handling of license applications by undocumented immigrants has become a campaign issue in the Orange County clerk’s race
- Republican Kelly Eskew said the staff is diverse and equipped to serve the county’s growing immigrant population
- Democrat Anthony Grice said that if elected, he may change policies, but would keep the staff
That led to some undocumented applicants arriving at the Goshen Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) office in the middle of the night to claim one of the limited spots in line for the following day.
“It was total segregation,” said Rene Mejía Jr., of the immigrant rights group Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson. “You would get people coming in at like three in the morning or four in the morning, really exaggerated times, because they wanted to make sure they had a spot, unlike someone who was documented or did have a social, they would just come and they would go in like normal.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic shut down nearly everything, the DMV switched to an appointment-only model that does not differentiate between undocumented and documented applicants.
Democratic candidate for clerk Anthony Grice said that whenever the DMV begins taking walk-in candidates, the two-line application system should not be reinstituted.
“I think there might have some implicit bias,” he said during a Zoom interview Thursday, adding that he believes the setting might have discouraged some applicants. “We have law enforcement, whether they were ICE or not, law enforcement there, and then a separate line for those people to go get their driver's licenses. It absolutely should not have happened that way.”
Republican candidate Deputy Clerk Kelly Eskew told Spectrum News the DMV became overwhelmed with new Green Light license applicants, and the state left them without funding or resources to serve the applicants.
When walk-in service resumes one day, she will not bring back the two-line system, Eskew said, but last year, the staff had no other options.
“As the process went on, we had to limit it because the number of staff that we have. We didn’t want people out here waiting if they couldn’t be serviced by 5 p.m.”
Eskew said the staff is diverse and equipped to serve the county’s growing immigrant population.
Grice said that if elected, he may change policies, but would keep the staff.
Unless other candidates emerge, Eskew and Grice may likely run unopposed in June primary elections before facing each other in the November general election.